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Prospects For More Marijuana Legalization Next Week Now Seem Shakier

In a different take on prospects for more marijuana legalization, the Los Angeles Times says that "legalization measures are teetering in Florida, Oregon and Alaska, states where supporters were confident of victory only a few months ago." (Earlier this week, the New York Times suggested that measures on next week's ballot would turn the tide to legalization across the nation. The Los Angeles newspaper says pot advocates were not anticipating a multimillion-dollar wager against them by casino mogul Sheldon Adelson or a spike in voter anxiety amid bureaucratic stumbles in regulating the nascent recreational pot market.

"This is turning out to be a unique and very difficult election year," said Aaron Houston of the Ghost Group, a marijuana-focused investment company. Ballot measures, he said, are under stress from the same midterm challenge afflicting all political forces on the left and their causes: an uninspired base of voters. Advocates acknowledge that some voters are also wary of how legalization has worked in Colorado and Washington. Legalization has not set off crime sprees in those states or a surge in stoned drivers crashing on roadways, as opponents had warned, but there have been plenty of less-than-favorable headlines about marijuana-infused candies and sodas and tourists going on drug binges.

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Holder Backs "Wholesale Change" In Ferguson; Jackson's Fate Unknown

Attorney General Eric Holder says there is an obvious need for “wholesale change” in the Ferguson, Mo., police department, the Associated Press reports. The statement at a "Washington Ideas" forum yesterday came as the Justice Department continues a broad investigation into the practices of the police department after the Aug. 9 police shooting of the unarmed Michael Brown. That investigation focuses on alleged patterns of racial discrimination and on how officers in the predominantly white department use force and search and arrest suspects.

Local and federal authorities are also continuing to investigate the shooting of Brown by Officer Darren Wilson for potential criminal charges. A St. Louis County grand jury is expected to decide by mid-November whether to indict Wilson. Holder would not say what the reforms should be or discuss potential leadership changes at the department. He did say, “I think it’s pretty clear that the need for wholesale change in that department is appropriate.” A government official confirmed there are discussions among Missouri officials about having Ferguson Police Chief Thomas Jackson step down as part of efforts to change the department. Jackson said he had not resigned and had not been asked to resign.

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Despite Criticism, Military Equipment Still Popular At Police Convention

The blurred line between civilian law enforcement operations and the military is more apparent than ever at the International Association of Chiefs of Police convention, which ended this week in Orlando, USA Today reports. Nearly three months after rioting in Ferguson, Mo., prompted a debate on the militarization of police, law enforcement's appetite for the look and feel of combat has not abated. On display were armored mobile command centers and personnel vehicles, a heavily fortified medical evacuation unit and an armor-plated mobile battering ram. Camouflage is clearly the preferred design for protective vests, shields and other tactical clothing.

While the federal government is re-thinking its providing of surplus equipment to civilian police agencies, largely because of the force displayed in Ferguson, private vendors appear more than happy to fill the void. "Yeah, I know all of this might look intimidating,'' said Ted Pinelli of AmChar Wholesale Inc., pointing to a display of assault and sniper rifles arrayed before a billboard depicting masked police officers in full raid gear. "But in today's society, sometimes, you really need to look intimidating. I don't know how or why you would dumb it down and make it look pretty just because somebody might be offended."  Among the most imposing pieces of equipment was a fully armored personnel carrier, capable of accommodating up to 12 in the most hostile of environments.

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Texas Executions End For Year: Capital Punishment Down But Not Out

On Tuesday, Texas executed Miguel Paredes for murdering three members of a rival gang sixteen years ago. With no executions scheduled in the next two months, Paredes' death marks the tenth and final execution for Texas this year, the fewest in almost two decades, The Atlantic reports. Executions in Texas, the most prolific death-penalty state, spiked after Congress restricted federal appeals in death-penalty cases with the 1996 Antiterrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act. Since then, the death penalty has been in overall decline both in Texas and nationwide. Thirty people have been executed so far this year in the entire U.S.; Texas alone executed 40 people at its peak in 2000.

Executions won't halt any time soon in Texas. State officials say they have a sufficient supply of pentobarbital for more executions thanks to a supplier they refuse to name, through 2015. Six in 10 Americans support the death penalty, says a recent Gallup poll, and Greg Abbott, who will likely be elected governor of Texas next week, is a staunch proponent. Reversing the downward trend would require either a drastic shift in the Supreme Court's jurisprudence or an overhaul of Texas sentencing law. Neither is imminent.

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Groundswell Of Minors Crossing U.S.-Mexican Border Slows; Courts Backlogged

This year's groundswell of minors coming across the U.S.-Mexico border has begun to stabilize, says the Christian Science Monitor. Some 2,424 unaccompanied youths were apprehended in September, compared with more than 10,000 in June, says U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The summer surge is stretching an immigration court system that was already trying to cope with a huge backlog of deportation cases that often take years. As of August, there were 408,037 cases in the U.S. Justice Department's immigration courts, up from 344,230 in 2013, says the nonpartisan Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University.

Under a White House directive, courts are sending minors to the front of the line as they focus on the more recent arrivals. Hearings are scheduled for the youths in a relatively short time. But some of the same factors that result in lengthy, drawn-out cases for adults fighting deportation, including a shortage of judges, not enough pro-bono attorneys, case continuances, and transfers from one state to another, are slowing down proceedings for minors. With Congress unwilling to grant special funding to address the crush of underage immigrants, the Department of Justice has reallocated resources and courts have reassigned judges and adjusted juvenile dockets. Significant hurdles remain.

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Campuses Hire Outsiders To Investigate Sexual Assault, But Is It Enough?

As colleges scramble under federal pressure to overhaul how they handle cases of sexual assault, the list of schools under investigation for botching cases grows. NPR reports that a growing number of campuses, rather than training their provosts and professors to act like prosecutors, are outsourcing the job to real ones instead. Djuna Perkins is a former prosecutor who is now an investigator-for-hire focusing on sexual assault. Her office near Boston is lined with pennants from a growing list of schools that are her clients: Amherst, Brandeis, Bentley, Harvard, Tufts, Williams, Emerson and more. Hiring an outside professional like Perkins can help colleges address questions of bias

Law Prof. John Banzhaf of George Washington University says schools who use their own staff to decide cases always will be suspect. It's only slightly better when cases are decided by outside investigators hired by schools. An even better idea, Banzhaf says, would be to create an independent consortium of professionals to investigate and judge cases. Then "there can be no thought that favoritism is being given because someone is a big athlete or that daddy's a big donor, and the standards will be the same across the board." he says. "To me it's a win-win-win for everybody." Or campus sex cases could be handled by courts. He's one of many who question why schools are the ones investigating these crimes in the first place.

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Big Banks that Avoided Prosecution May Still Be Charged

Two years after avoiding prosecution for a variety of crimes, some of the world’s biggest banks are suspected of having broken their promises to behave, reports the New York Times. A mixture of new issues and lingering problems could violate settlements that imposed new practices and fines on the banks but stopped short of criminal charges. Prosecutors are exploring whether to strengthen the earlier deals or scrap them and force the banks to plead guilty to a crime.

Prosecutors in Washington, D.C., and New York City have reopened an investigation into Standard Chartered, a big British bank that reached a 2012 settlement over accusations it transferred billions of dollars for Iran and other nations blacklisted by the U.S. New York State’s banking regulator is taking a fresh look at old cases, reopening a 2013 settlement with the Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ over accusations that the bank’s New York branch did business with Irany.

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CA Ballot Measure Next Week Could Cut Year Off Sentences Of 10,000

Crime has gone down faster in states that have reduced their prison populations, says the New York Times. An editorial says an encouraging example comes from California, which the newspaper calls "the site of some the worst excesses of the mass incarceration era, but also some of the more innovative responses to it." Two years ago, voters overwhelmingly approved a ballot measure to scale back the state’s “three-strikes” law, leading to the release so far, of more than 1,900 prisoners who had been serving life in prison, in some cases, for petty theft.

Warnings that crime would rise as a result were unfounded. Over two years, the recidivism rate of former three-strikes inmates is 3.4 percent, less than one-tenth of the state’s average. That’s partly due to a strong network of re-entry services. Next week, the state's voters will consider Proposition 47, which would covert many low-level drug and property offenses from felonies to misdemeanors. That would cut an average of about a year off the sentences of up to 10,000 inmates, potentially saving the state hundreds of millions of dollars annually. The Times says that, "California’s continuing experiment on sentencing can be a valuable lesson to states ... looking for smart and safe ways to unravel America’s four-decade incarceration binge."

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IL Prosecutors To Toss Conviction That Ended State Capital Punishment

Cook County, Il., prosecutors are expected to throw out the conviction from one of Illinois' most pivotal death penalty cases, the 1982 double murder conviction that put Anthony Porter within 48 hours of execution before a stunning confession led to his release and sent another man to prison, reports the Chicago Tribune. Prosecutors are scheduled to appear in court today to seek the release of Alstory Simon, whose videotaped confession unraveled Porter's conviction, sparking widespread reform and ultimately the end of capital punishment in Illinois.

The decision by State's Attorney Anita Alvarez to re-examine the murders of Marilyn Green and Jerry Hillard was prompted by Simon's claims he confessed to a private investigator working with Northwestern University journalism students only after being promised a book or movie deal. Alvarez's Conviction Integrity Unit re-examined the controversial case, raising what the Tribune calls "a frightening prospect that a sound conviction was improperly discredited, a guilty man was wrongly freed and an innocent man took his place in prison." In calling for the reinvestigation, Simon's lawyers said no physical evidence linked Simon to the murder, that more evidence pointed to Porter as the killer and that then-State's Attorney Richard Devine had acted too hastily in freeing Porter in 1999 based on Simon's confession.

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